Saturday, January 17, 2009

The Lincoln Standard

Robert McHenry examines the high standard set by Abraham Lincoln in his inaugural addresses. An excerpt:

These words, these sentences, to say nothing of these sentiments, were from a man of the most obscure birth, with almost no formal education and (we moderns have to remind ourselves) no speechwriters. Had Lincoln never sought public office but only written on public affairs, he would be remembered as a political thinker and writer of the first water. That his later writings are shaped by searing experience and the unimaginable weight of responsibility as much as by his stylistic mentors—Shakespeare and the King James Bible—explains the poignancy that we feel so strongly in them today. To those literary models he added his own clear thinking and plainspokenness to what he once called the “specious and fantastic arrangement of words, by which a man can prove a horse-chestnut to be a chestnut horse.” Some would argue that he was the foremost American prose writer of his century, perhaps sharing the honor with Mark Twain.

Plus, he saved the Union.

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